Based in Bischberg in the German region of Franconia, the Hausbrauerei Zur Sonne may be a microbrewery but the modern family business takes a macro view of technology. GEA Hilge HYGIA pumps fit into that approach and have been passed down from one generation to the next. The hygienic pumps not only help the tradition-steeped brewery reduce energy consumption but are also virtually maintenance-free.

Christian Schuhmann

The Schuhmann family has owned the brewery since 1856. Franconia is a part of the country with a strong brewing tradition that is still represented by more than 230 breweries. Many of them continue to serve their product primarily in their own pubs. The 450-square-meter Zur Sonne facility produces a total of 8,000 hectoliters annually and four beer varieties – Sonnen wheat beer, Zunft Trunk dark kellerbier, Urtyp Hell pale lager and Sonnen pilsener. A fifth variety, a seasonal addition to the lineup, is the Sonnenbock style beer. According to fifth-generation brewer Christian Schuhmann, the company distributes its beer in a radius of exactly 18 kilometers from the town’s church spire. And that’s not the only way the company highlights the beer’s local character. The choice of raw materials and consumables as well as equipment manufacturer is distinctly regional.

A good year for beer

GEA Hilge HYGIA from 1972

Fun fact: The Zur Sonne brewery’s oldest GEA Hilge HYGIA pump was built in the same year that Christian Schuhmann was born – 1972. When he joined the company in 1990, he inherited the pump. Used for filtration, the incredibly reliable HYGIA has been in operation for 50 years and will soon be handed down to the sixth generation. Only recently, Christian Schuhmann’s son successfully passed the Master Brewer program at the Doemens Academy.

Just how the family’s relationship with the Hilge pumps started has been lost to history. “My father remained true to his Hilge pumps and I continued using them after my apprenticeship certification exam because I was impressed by the robust, easy-to-maintain technology,” says Schuhmann. During his brewmaster program in 1993/1994, he met Stephan Gögl from Hilge and the two have been close ever since.

Fewer spares than the fingers on one hand

Zur Sonne is a microbrewery and the machines are not in use every day. When the team brews four to six times a week, the filtration pump operates for six to seven hours at a stretch. Each time, it reliably springs into action. In addition, maintenance is minimal and, aside from the mechanical seal, there are hardly any wear parts. The head of the family sets store not only by the spare parts’ long service life and availability at short notice but also the fact that they all share an identical design and so will fit any of his HYGIA pumps, no matter what the date of manufacture. “I don't keep large volumes of stock. In all my years in the business, I’ve only had to replace the filter pump’s seal about three times,” says Schuhmann, smiling.

A family business in tune with the times

GEA Hilge HYGIA pump from 1972

Today, the microbrewery employs a total of eleven GEA Hilge HYGIA pumps, some of which are fully automated. They are primarily put to work circulating beer and cleaning fluid around the hot and cold blocks. The family business regards gentle product handling as a top priority, so the pumps are frequency-controlled. There are both ride-on devices and those in the control cabinet. “Variable-speed pumps are energy-efficient. And conserving power is a big deal these days. While automating the system was a challenge, we can’t afford to get stuck in our ways. If you never bother with upgrades, sooner or later you’ll have to renew everything at once because otherwise the investment backlog becomes insurmountable,” explains Schuhmann. That is why he always strives to ensure that, despite its size, the Zur Sonne brewery keeps pace with technology and in tune with the times by regularly investing in its equipment. Bit by bit, the Bischberg microbrewers have systematically upgraded their older equipment with more sustainable solutions, saving energy wherever they can.

In 2014, the Franconians installed a contemporary, automated filling line that significantly reduces bottling times. Before that, the entire job had to be done by hand. Along with the modernization process, the Zur Sonne brewery has invested in a new GEA Hilge HYGIA pump every ten years.

The brewhouse and its three GEA Hilge pumps are managed fully automatically by a Siemens Simatic PCS7 process control system. That raises the question whether process control systems are fairly standard for small-scale brewers like this family business. According to Christian Schuhmann, such solutions are in widespread use. More and more companies have opted for them because they increase reliability while at the same time reducing labor costs.

Just keeps on going and going

The Zur Sonne brewery’s oldest GEA Hilge HYGIA pump

But does the antique from 1972 still make sense in the new setup? For Schuhmann, the answer is a resounding yes. After all, his first HYGIA has never let him down. A few years back, the pump was even fitted with a frequency converter and automated controls. As part of the retrofit that went off like clockwork, automating the pump increased its value tremendously and has given it a new lease on life. “Why should I dispense with such a robust technology? I have a real soft spot for that pump, it’s a part of my life story and it reminds me of my father,” Schuhmann says emphatically. As long as it keeps working, it’s here to stay.

Partnering to deliver the perfect solution

There was just one small hurdle. In 2014, the Zur Sonne brewery acquired two additional external tanks. The pump was to transport the beer upstream and additionally flush out the detergent during CIP cleaning. It takes some doing to get one pump to perform two jobs. “The solution was a frequency converter that operates at different frequencies and the sales team made sure I had all the help I needed installing it,” says the brewmaster. 

“GEA Hilge gave me great advice and everything is working wonderfully – just as we planned. The beer practically circulates by itself, which is exactly what we need as a small business.”